Finding A Sense Of Normalcy Through Dressing Up


Photo credit: Gracen Hoyle

illustration by Gracen Hoyle

When I packed up and went to my roommate’s house for spring break in Houston, I mostly gathered my comfiest loungewear — big sweaters, worn-in T-shirts and ratty sweatpants. With my original plans thwarted, I anticipated spending a week vegging out there before returning to campus to resume life as normal.

But, as I’m sure we’re all aware by now, things did not return to normal, nor will they for quite some time. As each day brought a new wave of sweeping changes, as Trinity shifted to exclusively online classes and postponed an in-person graduation, as cities tightened their travel restrictions and nonessential businesses shut down, I had to move within the span of two days to my friend’s house in Fort Worth, my third move of the year.

Overall, I was very lucky. Although I was not able to fly back home to my parents in Cambodia, I did not have the virus, and neither did any of my friends or family. The secluded suburban neighborhood at my friend’s place allowed me to go for fortifying strolls whenever I wanted. As far as social distancing goes, my situation is about as good as it can get.

Yet, I can’t help but mourn my dorm at Trinity where I would curl up every night in bed reading or singing while playing the keyboard in my room. My life would be indubitably worse if I were holed up there — at the very least, I would be subsisting on Bagel Bites and instant macaroni rather than home-cooked meals. But still, I miss it. I miss the not-so-special view of the parking lot outside my bedroom window, the strangely rocky chair that causes me to always be on edge when I’m sitting and hearing my suitemates chat in the bathroom in the evenings, but most of all, I miss my clothes. At this point, my wardrobe is just a glorified storage unit.

I was only able to pack a little because of the quick move, and the rest of my luggage, including my favorite items of clothing, I left in San Antonio. Sometimes I’ll put on old hoodies from high school declaring my membership in certain clubs and organizations, sometimes I wear cute summer dresses only to realize that I will not leave the house anytime soon, and sometimes I wear pajamas all day and it’s alright. To be honest, even if I did have my full wardrobe with me, I probably wouldn’t touch half of it. With nowhere to go and no one to impress, there’s simply no point. Why would I pour myself into skintight jeans just to sit at my desk for five hours straight?

Before all of this, getting up and getting dressed was the best part of my day, but I’m now realizing it’s not about the clothes themselves. It’s about the act of dressing up. I miss the task of perusing my closet and carefully curating an outfit based on the day’s agenda. I miss putting on simple makeup and spritzing on perfume. I miss the feeling of having places to go and people to see.

One of my favorite journalists, Rachel Syme of The New Yorker, started a hashtag on Twitter: #distancebutmakeitfashion. Every weekend, people post pictures of themselves sporting their Sunday best, for no reason other than to have a reason to dress up. So on Sunday, I got up at a normal hour. I washed my face and brushed my hair. I applied makeup, then put on my favorite overalls that I haven’t touched once, and you know what? I felt better. More confident. More like myself and less like a lazy oversized grub growing pale and plump in my moldy grotto.

It’s now already a month into the new school year, and I couldn’t help but sigh at what is happening. I do have a good mix of in-person and online classes, which makes dressing up still necessary, but I know that so many others do not. There’s no way I’m going to start wearing structured trousers every day, but I’ll be glad to bring back some clothes that can make these wild times seem a little more normal, a little more bearable. I hope you, too, have something that gives you that sense as well.